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Llamas: the Right Way to Approach and Interact with Them

Whether you’re keeping your llamas as livestock, to guard your livestock, or as a family pet (no matter where they live), it’s important to know the right way to interact and treat your llamas. That way, they can be happy, healthy, and good additions to any backyard homestead or farm.

In general, the best way to interact and approach llamas is by being calm, keeping the herd there for safety, being patient, developing a rapport with individual animals and the herd, and using safe treats to encourage llamas to trust more readily.

If you’re looking to include these amiable creatures in your household or as part of your homestead, then you’re going to have to know how to interact with them and care for them. In this article, I will be taking you through the basics of how to socialize with llamas and cater to their needs.

image of two llamas

Here’s How to Approach Llamas

Approach a llama carefully and calmly. Stop a few feet away from them and maintain a neutral, calm posture. Let the llama smell you. Like a dog, they may want a sniff of your breath. Approaching with a safe treat may also help the overall process.

Llamas are extremely defensive and intuitive herd animals. They aren’t known to cause bodily harm, but they do have a reputation for spitting. Getting spit on by these animals should be the least of your worries, though. They rarely spit on humans – unless they are poorly socialized or feel threatened. And contrary to popular belief, llamas don’t usually just spit for no reason. There’s almost always a reason.

Approaching a llama can be similar to approaching other herd animals of prey, but it’s also got a few subtle differences. Looking them dead in the eye while walking right up to their faces (or boldly proceeding to stroke their necks and heads) is the quickest way to get off on the wrong foot with these creatures.

When approaching llamas, you have to be watchful. Stop a few feet from them and let them be the ones to make the first move towards you. Avoid looking them in the eye if you feel nervous, as full-on eye contact can make them feel threatened. So don’t feel bad if you choose to more cautiously present your face.

I have also found that singing softly or talking calmly to them can work wonders if you want these animals to warm up to you speedily. It’s a trick that works for most animals on a backyard homestead – and even some of the less-common ones like llamas.

Suppress the urge to stroke or pat their heads and necks like you would do to a dog, as doing this has the tendency to rile them up. Instead, stand with your hands by your side and let them initiate the bonding process by smelling you.

Make sure you let them get a whiff off your breath in the process. You don’t have to worry about being slobbered by these animals, as a llamas’ tongue can only extend out of its mouth by half an inch.

You would most likely have to do this the first couple of times you approach a llama, afterwards you can be less cautious or guarded.

How Do You Interact with Llamas?

Interacting with llamas should always be done calmly, with respect, and taking care to avoid triggering a llama’s prey response. Llamas should always feel like you are their caretaker, rather than a predator. Llamas should not adopt an owner as a part of the herd, though, as it can lead to harmful behaviors.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of approaching these sociable animals, interacting with them should come easy.

How you smell and where you touch a llama are major determinants of how friendly your interactions with them would be. Llamas are herbivores and sensitive creatures; they are always sniffing around for danger.

They distinguish predators with the smell of meat, so if you try interacting with them with the smell of meat on your breath or clothing, then they most likely wouldn’t cozy up to you. Although this might not always be the case, it doesn’t make it any less of a possibility why these animals might not be responsive to your advances. So maybe don’t start introducing yourself to your llamas right after a delicious BBQ dinner.

For llamas that haven’t experienced human contact often, be careful with where you pet them. You should probably stick to stroking only the front of their necks at the early stages, as the back of their necks and bodies are red zones. That’s where the predator goes to bite them, after all.

Singing, humming a tune, or talking soothingly is also great way to bond with your pet llamas.

Interacting with a baby llama is however quite different from the above. It’s best to avoid too much human contact with a cria, this is because over-socializing them can have serious consequences.

Baby llamas that are over-socialized have the tendency to relate with humans as they relate with themselves, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they grow up and attempt to spit at you regularly or neck wrestle with you – behaviors that we definitely don’t want in an adult llama.

Are Llamas Friendly?

Llamas are super friendly! This is especially true if you go about interacting with them the right way. Their sociable nature makes them fit seamlessly into all spheres of society.

I’ve heard of some hospitals that use therapy llamas to help comfort patients. My local hospitals usually stick to dogs, but how cool would that be to have an emotional support llama come visit?

These emotionally intelligent and gentle animals can make amazing pets and are quite popular amongst older children.

Are Llamas Dangerous?

Llamas aren’t generally dangerous. However, sometimes they may not want to be petted or interact with people. In these cases, their teeth, toenails, charging, and spitting will let you know that they need some personal space.

Do Llamas Like to Be Petted?

Llamas absolutely love to be petted – as long as they know you and are familiar with you.

But just to be safe, it’s best you keep an eye out for sudden behavioral changes. For instance; if their eyes narrow even the smallest bit, and they begin to chew cud with their ears perked backwards, then it’s a clear indicator you should stop what you’re doing and back up.

If the llama isn’t yours, then always be sure to check with the owner before approaching and interacting with any llama. It’s best to make sure that they’re properly socialized with people before sidling up for a llama hug. You never know if maybe that particular llama is in a timeout.

How Do You Pet a Llama?

Llamas like to be patted on the front of the neck, petted on their heads, and may enjoy a back-of-the-neck scratch from people they’re more familiar with.

You can pet a llama the same way you would pet a dog but make sure they’re accustomed to human contact before you proceed to pet them freely.

For llamas that haven’t really been socialized well, please stick to stroking the front of their necks. This will be safer for you and them – and avoid triggering their fight or flight response. Do this until, at the very least, they grow accustomed to interacting with you.

Can You Hug a Llama?

You should have no problem hugging a llama if it’s properly socialized. Llamas are generally friendly creatures. They would rarely give you a hard time – unless they are way too familiar with humans or feel threatened.

For example, most llamas may not appreciate being approached from a place where they can’t see you. Always watch the eyes and ears – they’re your clue to what the llama is thinking. The ears will react very similar to a dog’s – up and alert means interest, while back and low can mean you need to back off.

Oh, and don’t forget to let the llama sniff you before you give them a big hug.

Image of a woman letting a llama sniff her at Machu Pichu.

Can You Keep a Llama as a Pet?

While llamas aren’t as common as cats or dogs, they are gaining popularity as backyard-dwelling pets. They do require special accommodations, including having their own herd (usually 2-3 llamas in a herd) or having an adopted herd of other prey animals like sheep. They also make great additions to a backyard homestead.

Llamas can be kept like other more “normal” pets, but they should probably live outside. They could probably come indoors, but house-training an alpaca seemed hard enough. I can only imagine that house-training a llama would be a few degrees harder!

If you have a house full of kids, then a llama would most definitely be an adored addition.

Llamas are also relatively quiet so you don’t have to worry about unnecessary ruckus from these animals. The only sounds you would hear from them are gentle humming sounds and an occasional bray when they sense danger. Well, okay. So male llamas are also known to make gurgling sounds (called orgling) when they want to mate.

 If you give your llamas constant love and attention, then it’s only a matter of time until they reciprocate it heartily. Llamas can live up to 15 -30 years. 30 years is super old age for llamas, though it has happened.

Pro tip: it’s best you get two llamas of the same sex (or get a neutered male) if you don’t want two llamas turning your backyard into a breeding ground – with lots more than just two llamas!

The capacity of your backyard is also something you must think through, as these animals need ample space to roam about and graze. Based on my research, a tenth of an acre (0.1 acres) is really the smallest size pasture a llama can tolerate – and even then, your llama will be wanting more space.

Although they are not easily susceptible to diseases, they do require a precise vaccination schedule that should be handled by a vet. They also need to be de-wormed and tested periodically. You’ll want to make sure you inspect them regularly for parasites.

Feeding llamas isn’t much of a hassle, as these animals have a varied diet that consists of hay, grains, and various fruits and vegetables. From a brief bit of research in talking to llama owners, it seems like feeding llamas costs just about the same amount as feeding a big dog. There’s just no llama kibble – unless you’re counting hay pellets.

Llamas also need:

  • supplements in their diets, preferably pelleted mineral supplements
  • a constant water supply
  • regular toenail trimming, shearing, grooming, and baths

Llamas are quite versatile. They make spectacular guard animals for your livestock. And while their fiber isn’t quite as nice as that of an alpaca, you can still see a steady flow of cash through their production of fiber.

Pro tip: sometimes you can create a mixed herd of llamas and alpacas. When it works, it works well. The llamas can be the guards – and you can get a great mix of alpaca and llama fibers to add to your homesteading repertoire.

When it comes to housing llamas, they require well-planned enclosures that are suitable for the local varying weather conditions.

  • During warm weather conditions like summer, an airy shelter should be provided for these animals. They can overheat easily, so they need a shady place to rest. Ideally, it’ll let in breezes.
  • In cold weather conditions like winter, a windproof structure like a barn should be provided. You may also want to adjust their winter die. Including starches (like corn) in their diet will help ensure their energy levels are stable during the adverse cold season.
  • You might also need to upgrade your fencing in order to reinforce the safety of your animals from larger predators and to keep them from wandering off easily.

Owning a llama can be an extremely rewarding and easing experience if you’re willing to put in the work and resources.

Final Thoughts

Llamas don’t exactly dote on their owners, but they have this calm and gentle demeanor that would make anyone want to unwind and revel in their easy-going presence.

They’re also great as pack animals. Can you imagine going on a hike – and bringing your llama along with you? I think it sounds like fun. It could really make for a next-level camping experience. Just make sure you aren’t going somewhere with known predators – or things could quickly go south if you know what I mean.

In any case, with our half-acre lot, we could have two llamas. We haven’t considered them as much as alpacas – simply due to size. Llamas are quite a bit bigger than alpacas. And with four small children, we want to make sure that their backyard homestead experience is fun and safe.

Not that llamas wouldn’t be safe, but that our children are scared of large animals up close (visiting the elephants at the zoo is a blast!). So for us, alpacas make more sense right now. But as the kids get bigger? Llamas are a definite possibility for our backyard homestead.

Resources

It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂

  • David. The Humans Guide to Avoiding Llama Spit, 1 Jan. 1970, llamazine.blogspot.com/2008/08/humans-guide-to-avoiding-llama-spit.html.
  • Kingson, Jennifer A. “The Llama Is In.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 July 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/07/04/garden/the-llama-is-in.html.

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